Letter From a Passenger: Did You Ever See Retaliation Against Passengers Who Opt Out?

Jennifer from Columbus asks:

“I always opt out of the full body scanners, and I sometimes feel as though the TSA screeners are sort of punishing me for it, like taking their sweet time with everything to purposely try to make me miss my flight, or something. In your years at the TSA, did you ever see anything like this?”

Dear Jennifer,

The TSA is, in my experience, generally short-staffed on females. Some praise must be given to the females who actually work hard at TSA, because a lot of burden falls on their shoulders. TSA has trouble retaining female officers. So some of what you experience may be related to a lack of female officers on the floor.

That being said: of course I’ve seen officers retaliate for all sorts of things they didn’t like from a passenger. There are an endless number of subtle, passive aggressive ways for an officer to get back at you if they decide they don’t like you. The most sure-fire way is a sudden shift from a practical procedural style to a strict, by-the-SOP style, which basically translates to them going from using common sense to a brittle, strict interpretation of the TSA SOP, which by nature means that everything will take much longer, be absurd and highly irritating, which is basically the TSA’s specialty.

So for instance, say you opt out of the full body scanner, and the officer patting you down doesn’t like your attitude, for whatever reason. She shoots a glance to the x-ray operator, who then calls a bogus bag check (see The Insider’s TSA Dictionary) on your bag, passing word to the bag checker, who then decides that he or she is going to tear apart your entire bag on account of some harmless item, pretending that he or she has some serious concern about the bag and is therefore going above and beyond for the love of country and the war on airport terror and bottles of soda. After going through all this hoohah, the dullard-of-an-officer may then come across, say, a travel size bottle of shampoo, and so then, lo and behold! He or she “has” to run your bag through the x-ray again on account of this new information!

Pull up a chair, passenger, this is going to be a while, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In defense of the good officers out there, though, sometimes there are passengers who are just all-out insufferable and entirely unreasonable. It’s like any service-type job. If you walk into a restaurant tossing racial and misogynistic jokes at the waits staff, then walk in again the next week, do not expect your soup to be pure, so to speak. Some passengers walk to the checkpoint looking to pick a fight even before the TSA has done anything absurd and infuriating to them, which isn’t the best way to go, as there actually are a lot of good officers out there working the checkpoints.

Hope that helps,

-N.J.R

Send all questions to takingsenseaway@gmail.com

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